2012: In the eye of the stakeholder
The World Economic Forum, that held its annual meeting in Davos end of January, declared the growing rebellion of young people without a future a bigger risk to global society than climate change. Movements such as the Arab spring, the Indignados in Europe and Occupy Wall Street in the US are mentioned in one breath. Rather strange, considering that â€œThe Protesterâ€ was named Person of the Year 2011 by TIME Magazine.
Citizens across the globe are increasingly critical. Equipped with knowledge and the power to connect in a split second through social media, they take matters into their own hands. Together with like-minded people that long for change, grassroots movements are growing as cabbage. Apparently, there is a large group of people that refuses to sit back and not be heard by â€˜the establishment’ companies, politicians, media and organizations alike. In the U.S., the SOPA bill on online copyright was swiped off the table after a petition on Facebook gathered 7 million signatures in a day, supported by 2.4 million tweets. As a strong desire for justice and the outrage over abuses is one of the three core values that drive young people (McCann, The Truth about youth, May 2011), we expect these group efforts of protest and calls for change to increase exponentially in 2012.
So, how will you handle this as a company? Are you ready to listen to these critical voices and willing to find common values and goals in order to change things for the better? Or do you prefer sitting in your corner scared of what will happen next? Will you turn your stakeholders into your allies or will you stay dumb for interesting opinions and good ideas from those concerned by what you do, on the inside or on the outside? Until recently, Greenpeace was the prototype of hard protest against companies. Today they work in partnership with multinational companies to achieve their objectives. Closer to home, Wouter Torfs is one of Belgium’s most covered CEO’s in the media in 2011, because of his ethical approach to business, involving all stakeholders.
Our prediction is that 2012 will be the year of the â€˜stakeholder’. According to Wikipedia, this is â€˜a person, group, organization, or system who affects or can be affected by an organization’s actionsâ€. Stakeholders are â€œthose groups without whose support the organization would cease to existâ€. Think about your employees, trade unions, governments, academia, nonprofit organizations, media, politicians, creative minds, other companies, shareholders, etc.
So what’s new? Stakeholders have been around longer than today, but the Internet and social media have duplicated their ability to connect and make their voices heard. They now see what you are doing right, and also what you are doing not so right. Whether you are fair and transparent or not. Do you walk the talk and actually act upon the fancy words written in your mission statement or not? Whether you’re a business, government, union, association, university or hospital, your organization has de facto become a glass house.
Maybe you should consider a reality check in 2012? Invite them in and ask them how you are doing? And in the meanwhile, ask them what they expect from their future? Sit down and listen to each other. Find your shared values. For many areas in business & society, only joint efforts can bring about change, achieving positive effects on your bottom line along the way. Retailer and Belgian Manager of the Year Jef Colruyt said that connecting with all his stakeholders is a key component of his company strategy at the International Marketing Congress of STIMA in December. Fons Van Dyck, Managing Director at Think BBDO pointed out recently in his paper column that making more connections can be seen as a real opportunity for growth in times of economic crisis.
Outside the box
Now I hear you thinking â€˜this is all easier said than done’. And that is true. But real leadership is about stepping outside your comfort zone. Dare to look outside the box of your glasshouse to all your different stakeholders. Who knows what you may find there?
â€œIt’s time to turn capitalism upside down and to shift our values from an exclusive focus on profit to also caring for people, communities and the planet,â€ as Sir Richard Branson puts it in his new book â€œScrew business as usual’. Finding shared values with your stakeholders, that is Corporate Social Responsibility 2.0. CSR that is not driven by compliancy or rules that are imposed by legislation, but by a quest for new opportunities for growth. Co-creation is at the center of this vision, not only with customers but with all your stakeholders. Leaders who dare to look through their glass windows, will discover a world of opportunities. Once you map your stakeholders, you will discover that they all have their own priorities for the future. If you engage into an active dialogue with them, you will discover your shared values. Only then you can build a lasting relationship with them and jointly develop projects that are good for you as an organization, but also for them.
Need some inspiration?
Late November 2012, Microsoft Belgium started a coalition around the new world of work, together with SDWORX, Telenet, USG People, Out Of Office, Ministry of Social Security, Flanders Synergy and Euro Green IT. Together they offer companies and workers inspiration to evolve into a new way of working, where trust, autonomy and respect are central values, thus contributing to more productivity, a better combination of work and family, reducing traffic issues and reducing harmful CO2 emissions. The initiative was born from the belief that this group of stakeholders can achieve more as a team than individually, and operates from a fully open philosophy of sharing experiences. Delhaize won the award for best sustainability report of the year in 2011. The jury praised their frequent and thorough dialogue with all their stakeholders. On of the main recommendations of the jury report of Ernst & Young, Business & Society, the Belgian CSR network and KAURI however, was that opening doors and listening to all surrounding parties remains a major challenges for most companies.
The G1000, the action for more citizen democracy started by David Van Reybrouck in Belgium, was all over the local media the past months. The initiative had many fans and critics, as it should in a democracy. In any case, the G1000 plea for more participation by all managed to reach a wide audience, which nominated them in the Top 5 for â€˜Product of the Year’. Less known is the enthusiasm of many Belgian business leaders behind the scenes for this positive, constructive initiative They were not only interested in the results but above all in the process of participatory consultation.
Do you know of a good example of stakeholder engagement or organizations that have built successful alliances with their stakeholders? Let us know, we would love to share these best practices on www.glassroots.com